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Archive for October, 2009

Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of President Hamid Karzai, has been on the CIA payroll for much of the past eight years, The New York Times reports, citing current and former American officials:

The relationship between Mr. Karzai and the C.I.A. is wide ranging, several American officials said. He helps the C.I.A. operate a paramilitary group, the Kandahar Strike Force, that is used for raids against suspected insurgents and terrorists. On at least one occasion, the strike force has been accused of mounting an unauthorized operation against an official of the Afghan government, the officials said.

Mr. Karzai is also paid for allowing the C.I.A. and American Special Operations troops to rent a large compound outside the city — the former home of Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban’s founder. The same compound is also the base of the Kandahar Strike Force. ‘He’s our landlord,’ a senior American official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Mr. Karzai also helps the C.I.A. communicate with and sometimes meet with Afghans loyal to the Taliban. Mr. Karzai’s role as a go-between between the Americans and the Taliban is now regarded as valuable by those who support working with Mr. Karzai, as the Obama administration is placing a greater focus on encouraging Taliban leaders to change sides.

A few things are immediately evident:

  1. The American military and the American intelligence apparatus appear to be waging two different wars in the region. On the one hand, there is the resource-hogging, politically unpalatable and oft-ridiculed “population-centric” counterinsurgency fight ISAF is currently engaged in (however imperfectly); on the other hand, there is the shadowy, violent and so very sexy counterterrorism mission headed by an agency which famously owes no explanations and isn’t accountable to anyone. By their nature, these missions are not mutually exclusive. But there is mounting evidence that Mr. COIN and Mr. CT aren’t exactly cross-pissing in brotherly bliss.
  2. There are two Karzais: one is a liability; the other, an asset. You cannot get rid of one without losing the other. Hence, from the point of view of the war effort, their combined usefulness is nil.
  3. In August, a report by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee revealed that the Pentagon’s Joint Integrated Prioritized Target List — a roster of 367 approved terrorist targets — had been expanded to include 50 “nexus targets”, or Afghan drug lords with links to the insurgency. Since Mr. Karzai, a “suspected” drug boss, obviously isn’t on the list, the only conclusion one can draw is that the United States is wiping out his competitors for him.

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There is a remarkable statistic in Jane Mayer’s superb piece [abstract] on the Predator war in The New Yorker:

It appears to have taken sixteen missile strikes, and fourteen months, before the C.I.A. succeeded in killing [Baitullah Mehsud]. During this hunt, between two hundred and seven and three hundred and twenty-one additional people were killed, depending on which news accounts you rely upon.

Remember, this took place under the best of circumstances, with friendly governments in both Islamabad and Kabul, a steady flow of human intelligence from the ground, and 100,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan. With all the talk of a classic COIN campaign in Afghanistan not being worth the cost, and of resorting to a cheaper off-shore CT option instead, it’s easy to forget what it actually takes to kill a guy with a flying robot. And it’s not only the man-hours and the innocents incinerated — it’s also the inevitable moral damage to a war-fighting nation’s psyche. What else is a suicide bomber who targets an army patrol and kills 10 bystanders but a drone sent from afar by a deft operator¹ to carry out an assassination? Scott Horton sums up the dilemma:

Saying ‘no’ to predator drones would not serve the nation’s security interests. But reconsidering the troubling deviations from American traditions of civilian-military control over weapons systems and accountability for their use is an imperative.

See also:

Revenge of the Drones (appendix 1) — New America Foundation
Analysis: A look at US airstrikes in Pakistan through September 2009 — The Long War Journal
Suicide Attacks in Afghanistan (2001-2007) — United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan

¹Amir is a fifteen-year old boy who was born in Pakistan to a family from Gardez. He has spent half of his life in Pakistan and the other half in Gardez. He is uneducated and spent only two days in a madrassah when his father asked him to leave and start working with him. He was greatly influenced by a local mullah (religious leader) who told him to go to Kabul to kill the ‘Angrez’. [...] He claims that the Gardez mullah gave him 200 Afghanis and told him that he is in fact giving him heaven. The mullah told the boy that jihad is farz, required against the foreigners that have come to occupy Afghanistan and if he manages to kill a foreigner, he would go to heaven.

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Iraq: 155 Dead, Maliki Spotted

At least 155 people are dead in the latest bout of residual violence in Baghdad. Merely an expected minor hiccup, of course, and nothing to be worried about, but apparently loud enough for the prime minister himself to put on his wellingtons and hazard a day trip:

In a rare personal appearance at a bombing site, Prime Minister Maliki arrived at the provincial council building about an hour after the explosion, his face ashen as he surveyed the carnage.

Around Mr. Maliki, paramedics carried the wounded to Red Crescent ambulances, workers wearing plastic gloves scooped body parts into plastic bags, and rescue teams pried open scorched cars in a desperate search for signs of life.

Surrounding streets had been blocked off and were under more than a foot of water because the blast had apparently also damaged a water main. Pools of water were red with blood.

Mr. Maliki did not venture far from his armored sport utility vehicle. He made no public comment before being driven away.

A new report from the Fund for Peace offers food for thought:

A commonly used metric for a ‘civil war’ used by scholars and the UN is one thousand victims per year killed in political violence. If the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count civilian death figures are taken as a basis, violence in Iraq surpassed the ‘civil war’ criterion in the first six months of 2009. Whether characterized as a ‘civil war,’ ‘low intensity conflict,’ or the remnants of radical forces trying to resurrect sectarian antagonism, the nomenclature is not important. What is significant is that sectarian violence remains a fact of daily life in Iraq, despite the military achievements of the 2007 ‘surge.’

No doubt Obama’s left-wing supporters* will be quick to point out that horrific though the bombings may have been, in the larger scheme of things they will be but a bump in the road to everlasting peace. I just wish you guys would apply the same carefree logic to Afghanistan.

[* Full disclosure: I once thought I was one of them.]

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Ahmed Rashid:

[...] Pakistan is far less resilient than it was a few years ago. Even as Pakistani officials bluntly criticize Holbrooke for linking Afghanistan and Pakistan in his ‘AfPak’ strategy, some Pakistanis already see a chronic ‘Afghanization’ of their nation. Current realities include a collapse of law and order in parts of the country, state institutions riddled with corruption and ineffectiveness, a justice system that cannot deliver, a crashing economy with severe joblessness, increasing ethnic tensions and a strong separatist movement in Baluchistan province.

However, the real fear is that under such enormous external and internal pressures, there are no guarantees that the army will stay committed to a democratic system. More so, the military may not remain as united as it has been for the past six decades. What many Pakistanis fear and constantly talk about is not a traditional generals’ coup that may end democracy, but a colonels’ coup that could bring in a pro-Islamist and anti-Western coterie of officers linked to Islamic groups that would then negotiate a compromise with the Pakistan Taliban. That could put Pakistan’s nuclear weapons into the wrong hands. Neither a partial U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan nor a strategy of only using drones to target al-Qaeda could hope to handle such a regional catastrophe.

And a complete American departure would seal the region’s fate.

There it is. I have yet to hear of anyone with more than superficial knowledge of Central and South Asia who doesn’t have the same nightmares. A change of course is urgently needed, yet so bad — so meaningless and nasty — has the debate over Afghanistan become that I’m seriously considering shutting off comments for this post simply because the mere thought of the inevitable, ill-informed and America-centric blather about COIN this and CT that and the safe haven myth and yadda yadda yadda makes my stomach turn.

Then again, fuck it — fire away, what do I care.

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You gotta be kidding me:

As government forces pressed ahead with the Waziristan offensive, the military called on the NATO troops in Afghanistan to seal the border ‘to prevent cross-border movement and flow of weapons.’

Pakistan Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (JCSC) Chairman General Tariq Majid made the call during talks with Britain’s Chief of Defence Staff, Sir Jock Stirrup. [...]

Majid called for ‘synchronisation of effort on both sides and sharing of real-time intelligence with reference to the ongoing operations,’ an army statement issued late on Tuesday said.

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Not that anyone’s interested, but I thought I’d mention that yesterday was the deadline for the Iraqi Parliament to pass an electoral law crucial for the next parliamentary elections, scheduled for January 16. Alas, parliament adjourned for the weekend. Reidar Visser explains:

Many of the biggest parties secretly want to keep a closed-list system instead of the new arrangements adopted in the latest provincial elections, so-called open lists. The difference between the two should be noted. It is not, as one of the biggest US newspapers recently suggested, that voters don’t know the names of the candidates on the closed list “for security reasons”! That is misleading:  Candidate names are known to voters under either system and voters can find the names not only of the candidate but also his or her father, grandfather and great-grandfather in publicly available registers. The closedness has to do with the ability of voters to rank the candidates. Under the closed list, this is decided by the parties whereas under the open list voters can promote favourites of their own, even if the party gave them a less prominent position far down on the list. The introduction of this system proved universally popular in the latest provincial elections and the new device was widely used by Iraqis (who promoted many local councillors from non-winning positions), quite regardless of the fact that the Iraqi electoral commission in practice undermined the system by not printing full candidate lists (voters instead had to use tables of correspondence on display in the polling stations). On the other hand, the established parties and politicians are worried about the new system – above all for fear of being deselected.

Of course, parliament took its sweet time passing the provincial elections law, too, yet in the end good sense prevailed and by all accounts the elections were a success. So lets not get all gloomy just yet.

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A Message from the Management

My apologies for the dearth of posts.

For once, I have no excuses to offer. I simply don’t know what to write. The war in Afghanistan is all but lost, yet there is no serious debate, only a shouting match. As for Iraq, no one really cares what happens as long as the Americans get out safe and sound, right?

Man, talk about disillusionment.

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